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Natan Sharansky
Natan Sharansky in 2007
Minister Minister of Industry and Trade
Minister Minister of Internal Affairs
Minister Deputy Prime Minister
Minister Minister of Housing & Construction
Minister Minister of Jerusalem Affairs
Personal details
Born 20 January 1948(1948-01-20) (age 73)
Stalino, Soviet Union

Natan Sharansky (Hebrew: נתן שרנסקי‎; Russian: Натан Щаранский; born 20 January 1948) is a prominent Israeli politician, human rights activist and author, who spent years in a Soviet prison for allegedly spying for the Defense Intelligence Agency.


Anatoly Borisovich Shcharansky (Russian: Анатолий Борисович Щаранский) (later Natan Sharansky) was born in Donetsk (then called Stalino), Soviet Union on 20 January 1948 to a Jewish family. He graduated with a degree in applied mathematics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. As a child, he was a chess prodigy. He performed in simultaneous and blindfold displays, usually against adults. At the age of 15, he won the championship in his native Donetsk.[1] When incarcerated in solitary confinement, he claims to have maintained his sanity by playing chess against himself in his mind. Sharansky beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous exhibition in Israel in 1996.[1]

Natan Sharansky is married to Avital Sharansky and has two daughters, Rachel and Hannah. In the Soviet Union, his marriage application to Avital was denied by the authorities.[2] They were married in a Moscow synagogue in a ceremony not recognized by the government, as the USSR only recognized civil marriage and not religious marriage.

Avital Sharansky[]

Avital Sharansky was born Natalya Shteiglitz/Steiglitz in 1950, in the Ukraine.

In the early 1970s, Avital's brother applied for a visa to leave for Israel, where he settled in Jerusalem, but her parents would not allow her to follow him. She met Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky at a demonstration near the Moscow synagogue in autumn 1973 (during the Yom Kippur War) and became active in the refusenik movement, of which Anatoly was an active member. The term means being refused a Soviet emigration visa to Israel, which happened in 1973; he was formerly a mathematician.

The couple were married on 4 July 1974, in a Jewish religious ceremony, under a Chuppah – without the required Soviet civil ceremony – but the exit visa to emigrate to Israel arrived for her alone, and she was obliged to leave her refusenik husband within 24 hours. She settled in Jerusalem, where she took the Hebrew name Avital; after a while studied Judaism, becoming religiously observant.

Throughout Anatoly's period of activism, Avital campaigned for his right to emigrate to Israel, and – after his arrest and exile to Siberia – for his freedom;. Natan was arrested on 15 March 1977 and charged; he was convicted in 1978 on multiple crimes (including treason, which carried the death penalty): From the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, Anatoly was sentenced to hard labor and sent to a prison camp or gulag in Siberia (Schistopol), where for part of the time he was placed in solitary confinement; his health deteriorated, to the point of endangering his life.

For a total of 13 years, Avital left no stone unturned in her campaign from Israel: meeting world leaders, diplomats, politicians, and speaking in front of Jewish audiences worldwide. Avital campaigned successive US Presidents, Congress, British and European political parties, Jewish lobbies, every major Jewish convention in Israel or worldwide, the UN in New York and Geneva (under the terms of the Helsinki Final Act). Anatoly's mother, the late Ida Milgrom, campaigned within the USSR.

Anatoly was finally released in exchange for a Soviet spy on 11 February 1986, being transported the following day to what was then East Germany (Berlin), where Avital met him as he came across the bridge; they both flew home to Israel and thousands of waiting welcomers.

Ida Milgrom and her other son, Leonid, subsequently received visas to join her son and daughter-in-law in Israel, where she lived in Jerusalem, until her death at age 94 (May 2002).

Avital holds an M.S.W.; she lectures in Jewish Studies for Russian-speaking olim, as well as talking about her past to young students, but remains largely out of the public eye. Avital and Natan live in Jerusalem and have two daughters. On 28 May 2013, Avital was awarded the prestigious Emma Lazarus award by the American Jewish Historical Society in recognition of her heroic efforts on behalf of Natan and the millions of Soviet Jews seeking freedom. Elie Wiesel presented the award to Avital.

Imprisonment and activism[]

Sharansky was denied an exit visa to Israel in 1973. The reason given for denial of the visa was that he had been given access, at some point in his career, to information vital to Soviet national security and could not now be allowed to leave. After that Sharansky became a human rights activist and spokesperson for the Moscow Helsinki Group. Sharansky was one of the founders of the Refusenik movement in Moscow. In 1977 Sharansky was arrested on charges of spying for the DIA and treason and sentenced to 13 years of forced labor in Perm 35, a Siberian labor camp (Gulag). Sharansky appeared in a March 1990 edition of National Geographic magazine. The article, "Last Days of the Gulag" by Mike Edwards, profiles through photographs and text one of the few remaining Soviet prison labor camps (known as the Gulag). The article featured a photo of Sharansky and his wife Avital in their home in Israel viewing photos of the same Gulag where Sharansky had been imprisoned, but as it appeared in 1990. Sharansky remarked in the article that after viewing images of the prisoner's faces he could discern that the protocol of oppression was still at work. The author also showed Sharansky a photo of the cold isolation cell where Sharansky had himself been confined. Sharansky commented with irony that conditions had improved slightly — the stark cell now featured a thin bench bolted to the middle of the floor. He said that if that bench had existed when he was there he could have utilized it to sleep, albeit uncomfortably.

As a result of an international campaign led by his wife, Avital Sharansky (including assistance from East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel, New York Congressman Benjamin Gilman and Rabbi Ronald Greenwald) Sharansky and three low-level Western spies (Czech citizen Jaroslav Javorský and West German citizens Wolf-Georg Frohn and Dietrich Nistroy) were exchanged for Czech spies Karl Koecher and Hana Koecher held in the USA, Soviet spy Yevgeni Zemlyakov, Polish spy Marian Zacharski and East German spy Detlef Scharfenorth (the latter three held in West Germany) in 1986 on Glienicke Bridge.[3][4] Sharansky was released in February 1986. He was the first political prisoner ever released by Mikhail Gorbachev due to intense political pressure from Ronald Reagan.[citation needed]

Sharansky immediately immigrated to Israel, adopting the Hebrew name Natan. In 1988, he wrote Fear No Evil, his memoirs of his time as a prisoner, and founded the Zionist Forum, an organization of Soviet emigrant Jewish activists dedicated to helping new Israelis and educating the public about absorption issues. Sharansky also served as a contributing editor to The Jerusalem Report and as a Board member of Peace Watch. In 1986, Congress granted him the Congressional Gold Medal.[5] In 2006 US President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom,.[6]

On 17 September 2008, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation awarded Sharansky its 2008 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award.[7]

Israeli political career[]

Sharansky and Ronald Reagan, 1986

In 1995 Sharansky and Yoel Edelstein founded the Yisrael BaAliyah ("Israel in aliya", or a pun, "Israel on the rise") party, promoting the absorption of the Soviet Jews into Israeli society. The party won seven Knesset seats in 1996.[8] It won 6 seats in the Israeli legislative election, 1999, gaining two ministerial posts, but left the government on 11 July 2000 in response to suggestions that Prime Minister Ehud Barak's negotiations with the Palestinians would result in a division of Jerusalem. After Ariel Sharon won a special election for Prime Minister in 2001, the party joined his new government, and was again given two ministerial posts.[9] In the January 2003 elections the party was reduced to just two seats. Sharansky resigned from the Knesset, and was replaced by Edelstein. However, he remained party chairman, and decided to merge it into Likud (which had won the election with 38 seats). The merger went through on 10 March 2003,[10] and Sharansky was appointed Minister of Jerusalem Affairs. From March 2003 – May 2005, he was Israel's Minister without Portfolio, responsible for Jerusalem, social and Jewish diaspora affairs. Under this position Sharansky chaired a secret committee that approved the confiscation of East Jerusalem property of West Bank Palestinians. This decision was reversed after an outcry from the Israeli left and the international community.[11] Previously he served as the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Minister of Housing and Construction since March 2001, Interior Minister of Israel (July 1999 – resigned in July 2000), Minister of Industry and Trade (1996–1999). He resigned from the cabinet in April 2005 to protest plans to withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. He was re-elected to the Knesset in March 2006 as a member of the Likud Party. On 20 November 2006, he resigned from the Knesset to form the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies. Since 2007, Sharansky has been Chairman of the Board of Beit Hatefutsot, the Jewish diaspora museum,[12] and since June 2009 is the chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

NGO work[]

In June 2009 Sharansky was elected to the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel by the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.[13] In September 2009 Sharansky secured $6 million from the Genesis Philanthropy Group for educational activities in the former Soviet Union.[14]

Media recognition and awards[]

In 2005, Sharansky participated in "They Chose Freedom", a four-part television documentary on the history of the Soviet dissident movement, and in 2008 he was featured in the Laura Bialis documentary Refusenik. He was number eleven on the list of Time magazine magazine's 100 most influential people of 2005 in the "Scientists and thinkers" category.[15]

Published works[]

Sharansky is the author of three books. The first is the autobiographical Fear No Evil, which dealt with his trial and imprisonment. His second book, "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror" was co-written with Ron Dermer. George W. Bush offered praise for the book:

"If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy... For government, particularly – for opinion makers, I would put it on your recommended reading list. It's short and it's good. This guy is a heroic figure, as you know. It's a great book."[16][17]

His book Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, is a defense of the value of national and religious identity in building democracy.[18]

Political views[]

Sharansky and Vladimir Putin

Sharansky has argued that there can never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians until there is "the building of real democratic institutions in the fledgling Palestinian society, no matter how tempting a 'solution' without them may be."[19] In a Haaretz interview, he maintained the "Jews came here 3,000 years ago and this is the cradle of Jewish civilization. Jews are the only people in history who kept their loyalty to their identity and their land throughout the 2,000 years of exile, and no doubt that they have the right to have their place among nations—not only historically but also geographically. As to the Palestinians, who are the descendants of those Arabs who migrated in the last 200 years, they have the right, if they want, to have their own state... but not at the expense of the state of Israel."[20] In the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011, he told Moment Magazine, "To sign an agreement you must have a partner who is dependent on the well-being of his people, which is what democracy means."[21]

See also[]

  • Refusenik (Soviet Union)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kasparov beaten in Israel. New York Times. (16 October 1996). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  2. Nathan Sharansky, Jewish Virtual Library
  3. Hero Is Home: Israel Cheers Shcharansky. Chicago Tribune. (12 February 1986). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  4. Shcharansky Swap Confirmed. Chicago Tribune. (11 February 1986). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  5. Congressional Gold Medal recipients. Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  6. Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. 7 December 2006
  7. Natan Sharansky to receive Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. Associated Press via Ynetnews (28 February 2008)
  8. Natan Ščaranskij; Anatoly Shcharansky (2006). The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror. New Leaf Publishing Group. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-89221-644-4. 
  9. Fifteenth Knesset: Government 29 Knesset website
  10. Mergers and Splits Among Parliamentary Groups Knesset website
  11. The Dissident: An Interview With Natan Sharansky. Mother Jones (30 March 2005). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  12. Sharansky new Beth Hatefutsoth head – Israel Jewish Scene, Ynetnews. (20 June 1995). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  13. Natan Sharansky's acceptance speech[dead link]
  14. Genesis group gives Jewish Agency $6 million for education projects in FSU Fundermentalist Blog Post
  15. Time magazine, 18 April 2005, Natan Sharansky: Bush's Favorite Author
  16. John F. Dickerson (January 10, 2005) What the president reads. CNN
  17. William Kristol (24 January 2005) Honoring Democracy. From the 24 January 2005 issue: Honor points the path of duty; the path of duty for us is the defense of liberty, Weekly Standard, Volume 10, Issue 18.
  18. Sharansky Interview regarding ''Defending Identity'', 14 July 2008. (26 July 2008). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  19. Natan Ščaranskij; Anatoly Shcharansky (2006). The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror. New Leaf Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-89221-644-4. 
  20. Sharansky’s Double Standard. For the advocate of universal democracy, human rights don’t begin at home by Michael C. Desch (The American Conservative. 28 March 2005 Issue)
  21. Natan Sharansky (May/June 2011). "What Is Israel’s Next Move In The New Middle East?". Moment Magazine. Moment Magazine. 


  • Fear No Evil: The Classic Memoir of One Man's Triumph over a Police State, Public Affairs: 1998. ISBN 1-891620-02-9.
  • The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, Public Affairs: 2004. ISBN 1-58648-261-0.
  • Defending Identity: Its Indisputable Role in Protecting Democracy, Public Affairs: 2008. ISBN 1-58648-513-X.

External links[]

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